EU is the World’s Largest Exporter of Live Farm Animals

By Tyler, Global Vegans

By Tyler, Global Vegans

Last year, the UK government revealed that proceedings had started to ban the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter from England and Wales. The move, which was confirmed by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) in December, had previously been banned under EU single market legislation.

More recently, it has been reported that the EU member states bound by this legislation could be responsible for more than three-quarters of global live farm animal exports. This makes the EU the world’s largest exporter of live chickens, pigs, sheep, goats and cows - a harrowing title to claim.

EU failings on animal welfare come after a 2019 ‘Protection of animals during transport within and outside the EU’ resolution, which states that ‘the EU is where animal welfare is most respected and defended, and it is an example for the rest of the world’.

Despite this, results from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) shared with the Guardian suggest that EU live export figures far surpass those of other trading blocs. It is estimated that in 2019, the EU was responsible for exporting 80% of the 1.8 billion live animals recorded by the FAO. This would make the EU responsible for the transportation of over 1.4 billion live chickens, cows, pigs, sheep and goats across borders.

The meat industry is guilty of many crimes, but the live exports trade is particularly abhorrent. Animals being transported are often herded onto overcrowded vessels and forced to stand for hours at a time. Infection spreads quickly throughout trucks and ships, meaning many animals arrive at their final destination sick. This doesn’t include the thousands that die as a result of vehicle collisions or capsizing.

Despite EU regulations governing animal welfare during live exports, secretly recorded footage often shows the rules being breached by workers. In 2019, video evidence showed workers beating calves at a resting point in France during a journey from Ireland to elsewhere in the EU. The video showed the men hitting the calves aggressively with rods, forcing them to feed and stamping on their limbs.

Travelling across borders is already extremely distressing for animals. Many die in transit, often due to dehydration, respiratory-related illnesses caused by extreme heat, or from being crushed. In August 2020, more than 3000 sheep died on a ship travelling from Saudi Arabia to Sudan after dehydration drove them to drink seawater. Unfortunately, news stories like these are all too common.

What’s more, there are few consequences for exporters responsible for the death of animals in transit. Following the death of over 14,000 sheep on-board Romanian vessel The Queen Hind in November 2019, Romania has continued to export animals to countries throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Speaking on the incident, Reineke Hameleers from Eurogroup for Animals called it an “iconic example of the intrinsic failures of the system”.

Where animals are transported is shrouded in mystery, but many of them are exported within the bloc. According to the European Parliament, Italy, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands are amongst the biggest global importers of live cows, pigs, sheep and chickens in both intra- and extra-EU trade.

The EU’s involvement in the live exports trade is stimulated by countries specialising in the breeding of a particular animal. Often, animals are bred in one country, transported to another for fattening, and then sent on a third journey to be slaughtered. EU countries are discouraged from exporting animals to countries with animal welfare regulations and slaughter methods that are deemed to have lower standards, however, these practices are frequently breached.

Britain was criticised for breaking compliance with this rule as recently as last summer. Despite the Government’s insistence that it does not export animals to third countries with lower welfare regulations, photographs taken by animal rights organisations show UK cows being slaughtered in North Africa and the Middle East. According to Animals International, animals killed in countries such as Lebanon are slaughtered by "poorly equipped, untrained workers, while fully conscious and terrified".

Now that Britain has left the EU, the Government has the chance to withdraw its support from this deplorable trade. Banning the live exports of animals for slaughter and fattening from England and Wales is a start, but more must be done to protect animals from the horrors of live exportation. This includes putting pressure on neighbouring European countries to follow Britain’s example.

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